When I was eighteen years old I bought a dozen Canadian beer from the off-sale counter at the Healy Hotel. I was nervous, pulling open the door to that mysterious place, the legal drinking age being nineteen, but the fellow behind the counter took my money without asking for ID. I recall the smell of stale beer and cigarettes.
Later the Healy was one of the first bars where I sat down and ordered a draught. There were orange terry-towel cloths on the tables, held in place by elastic, a large glass jar of pickled eggs on the counter, that smell of stale beer and cigarettes.
The Hotel opened in 1914, so it’s possible my Dad also had one of his first drinks there. He wasn’t much of a drinker and we did not discuss such things, so I have no way of knowing. I do remember eating in the restaurant when I was a small child, and a drunken man at the next table giving me a dime.
In 1989, at roughly the same time as they were tearing down the Berlin Wall, a wrecking ball demolished the Healy Hotel. My father had bid for the main staircase and came in the highest. The day before the Healy’s destruction, he and my brother Ray ripped up the four flights of stairs, salvaging hundreds of 7 foot by one foot steps, and 7 foot by six inch risers. The boards were oak, much of it quarter cut.
Dad used the oak for his gramophone cases. As a collector, he was not a purist in that he had no qualms about building cases for the machines, or even making parts. He often did both, reconstructing perfect copies of Edison and Victrola machines. There are more than fifty in his collection.
In this way some of the old hotel has been preserved and made music by my father’s handiwork.